Today's Papers

The Remains of the Fray

Everybody leads with the Super Tuesday results, which seal the Democratic nomination for Al Gore and leave George W. Bush the prohibitive favorite for the Republican nod. Both the Los Angeles Times and New York Times headlines emphasize the sweep of the results, with the latter referring to the two men’s “triumph nationwide.” And it’s true–Gore beat Bill Bradley in every contest: in California, New York, Georgia, Maine, Vermont, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Missouri. Bush beat John McCain in California, New York, Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, Maine, and Maryland, while losing to him only in Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. The consensus is that Bradley will quit tomorrow, while McCain will ponder his next move for a bit.

The Washington Post reports that with the exception of the New England states Bush lost, he rolled up rather large margins: more than 20 percent in Ohio and Missouri and nearly 40 percent in Georgia. The LAT makes the same point about Gore: He got 80 percent of the votes in Georgia, 70 percent in Ohio, and 60 percent in New York, Maryland, and Missouri.

The papers report that in his remarks last night, Al Gore made the same challenge to George W. Bush that he had offered to Bradley: no 30-second spots but two debates a week and joint appearances at town meetings. As the papers went to press there was no response from Bush.

The papers’ consensus is that the turning point of the Gore campaign came when, after polling showed him losing to Bradley in New Hampshire, he thinned out his staff, moved his campaign HQ from Washington, D.C., to Nashville, Tenn., and started directly attacking Bradley. And that the turning point of the Republican contest was McCain’s decision to take on the religious wing of the party.

But there is also much offered in the way of explanation that is anything but. The LAT says that Bush helped himself clinch when he “hammered McCain in issues like education that shored up his support among women and moderates.” Well, what exactly did he say about education? Why would it appeal to women and moderates? What was McCain’s position that he criticized? And the WP’s lead builds to this analysis-free conclusion: “But Bush’s principal weapon against McCain proved to be his superior appeal to Republican voters.”

The LAT off-lead gives the run-down on California’s ballot initiatives, most of which resonate with concerns nationwide. At press time, insurance companies seemed to be prevailing in their attempt to kill two initiatives that would have expanded the litigation powers of car accident victims, Indians apparently are being given wide latitude to operate gambling concerns on tribal lands, and voters threw out a powerful campaign-finance reform proposal that among other things would have banned all corporate political contributions. Also, by a wide margin, California’s voters approved a law that makes it impossible for California to recognize a same-sex marriage even if it is legally recognized elsewhere. The paper says the ballot issues consumed $150 million, most of it going to TV stations.

A WP editorial observes that despite yesterday’s feeling of closure, the primary season has a long way to go, with the upshot being that many primaries, the ones that come after Super Tuesday, have become practically irrelevant. The paper endorses the remedy of a scheme of four regional primaries, held at a rate of one per month between March and June. But why bother with this Rube Goldberg contraption? Why not have, say, a two-month run-up of debates and town meetings and then a single national primary day? Could one of the reasons we don’t hear more calls in the press for a change to the current bloated, crazy system be that the extended horse race is good for the media’s bottom line?

Today’s Papers is cheered by the papers’ increasing sophistication about one-day market moves. Yesterday the Dow dropped 374 points, supposedly on the strength of bad news from that bedrock of the economy Procter and Gamble, but of the majors, only the NYT fronts the news.

The Wall Street Journal runs a front-page feature tick-tocking the behind-the-scenes events in the U.S. counterterrorism establishment during the run-up to the millennium. The story is full of Clancy-esque details: A senior intelligence official makes a veiled threat to a top member of the Taliban over the scrambled telephone in his kitchen; two dozen members of the U.S. terrorist response team wait on New Year’s Eve at an air base, ready to go anywhere in the world should an attack occur; and FBI agents make a sudden raid on an apartment complex in Anaheim, Calif., to talk to the brother of a major terrorist. But given that the terrorist threat limned in the story seems even more insubstantial than rules of classification would require–the main bad guys are a ring of 13 men in Jordan caught with a crude sketch of a building with an American flag on top, that no one was ever able to identify–and that there is not one non-government expert quoted in the story, the reader is forgiven for suspecting that this piece has a political point. Namely, that, in the words of the story, “the $7 billion-a-year U.S. counterterrorism effort seemed to be working–at least for the moment.” The phrase, “at least for the moment,” has a clear meaning in Washington: Increase our budget.